BY JEFF FALK
MYERSTOWN – Sometimes, when you’re embarking on a new journey, the best place to start is the beginning.
In many ways, the Elco football program is re-inventing itself, redefining what it really is. This season, not only do the Raiders have a new head coach, they also have a new offensive scheme and a new quarterback running it.
So what the Raiders have done is returned to their roots, returned to the basics. What that means is more emphasis on fundamentals, the offensive and defensive lines, running the ball, playing to their strengths while disguising their weaknesses.
“It’s going to be a while,” said Raider rookie head coach Bob Miller of the time it will take for he and his charges to become totally comfortable with each other. “But we only put in as much as we need to. You don’t realize how hard it is to install an offense. To start on August 13th and put it in before the beginning of the season, it’s tough. It’ll be a while.
“We’re going to put in as much as we do well,” Miller continued. “We want to be a solid football team. We want to run the offense and run the defense with solid plays. We want to teach them (his players) to work hard.”
A former Raider assistant, Miller took over for departed head coach Mark Evans in July. Not too long after that Elco learned of the transfer of incumbent starting quarterback Anthony Pletz to Lebanon Catholic.
“There’s so many little things these kids have to know,” said Miller, who last year served as the Raiders’ track and field coach. “Offensively, it’s a thinking man’s offense. On defense we’re in a 5-2 and we need to be able to read and adjust.
“Terminology-wise, the offense is different than what Coach Evans ran,” added Miller. “There’s two new quarterbacks and kids have been moved out of positions.”
Elco has moved its best athlete, junior Cameron Strause to quarterback. A former tailback, Strause is a tough, smart runner who is currently sharing practice snaps with freshman Jeff Martin.
While Martin is more of a passer, Strause is expected to emerge as the starter. And when he does, expect Elco to run the ball out of multiple formations, behind a big offensive line.
“We have two new quarterbacks,” said Miller. “One’s a freshman and one’s never played quarterback before. We have a new offense and we don’t have the most skilled guys, in terms of numbers and in terms of speed.
“We split time (at QB) at (first scrimmage) Ephrata and we’ve been doing that in practice,” added Miller. “They obviously have different strengths. Right now, we’re looking at continuing that. Cameron, by nature, is a running back. If we’re trying to control a game, I want him in the backfield.”
What the success of the Raiders’ season might very well revolve around is the play of their offensive and defensive lines, the guys up front, the men in the trenches. And Elco has some large and talented human beings there.
The group is led by 6-5, 250-pound senior Schuyler Harting and fellow 12th-grader Zach Carley. Also being counted on heavily for contact are senior Chris Kreider and junior Marshall Witmer.
“Against Ephrata, we came out and said it was going to be a battle of the lines up front,” said Miller. “We handled our own. We didn’t dominate. We had a couple of kids stand out defensively, but we didn’t play team defense. But our kids competed. Realistically on defense, we did some nice things. On offense we moved the ball, but didn’t finish drives.
“Defensively, our philosophy is to try and stop the run,” continued Miller. “And take the other team out of their comfort zone. You always want to put the other team on page two of their game plan. But I don’t think either side of the ball is ahead of the other at this point.”
Elco is also seeking key contributions from senior Adam Shoemaker, senior Nick Sprenkle, senior Ryan Weirback, junior Derek Miller and junior Jake Stager.
“We’ve talked about expectations,” said Miller. “And the kids have taken them on. We don’t have a lot of rah-rah guys. But we have a lot of locker room presence. I think our line, offensively and defensively, is going to be strong.
“Practice has been going on real well,” Miller continued. “We’ve done a ton of teaching. The kids are focused. They’re working hard and picking it up.”
The Raiders return seven starters from last year’s offense and seven from the 2011 defense. With 15 seniors, Elco should be seasoned, experienced and poised.
Last season, Elco went 3-7 overall.
“I told them at the beginning that we’re going to state our goals,” said Miller of his troops. ” ‘Let’s find out what we’re made of.’ Right now our goals are to know what we’re supposed to be doing all the time and to play hard.’
“If we achieve those goals, then we’ll set specific goals for other teams,” continued Miller. “Right now, we’re worried about us. We want to take care of ourselves.”
Miller’s late start did not allow him enough time to work the kind of recruiting magic that the Raider thinclads experienced. Elco will enter its Friday, August 31st season-opener with Hamburg with 31 warm bodies and not a lot of flexibility for injuries.
“No, I’m not pleased with that at all,” said Miller of the Raiders’ turnout. “There’s very few players in that ninth-grade group. Over time, hopefully we’ll start to have groups of 15 come through. Kids love jumping on teams that win.”
2012 Elco Raider Football Schedule
@ Hamburg Area High School
Fri Oct/26, 7:00 pm
|First Name||Last Name||Grade||Jersey #||Height||Weight||Off.||Def.|
|Tyler||Arnold||12||10||5′ 11″||160||K / P|
|Clayton||Bauder||12||21||6′ 2″||220||K , P|